Community divided over deed restrictions
Original Carrollwood residents have little luck convincing their neighbors
to sign up again for deed restrictions. One-third ignore their pleas.

Article Courtesy of the St. Petersburg Times
Published August 15, 2003

CARROLLWOOD - When Charles Himsel got angry at his neighbors in Original Carrollwood, he got even.

He piled junk in his yard, spray-painted numbers on his house and even called the police on two neighbors who tried to mow his tall weeds.

It was 1999. The Carrollwood Civic Association had sued Himsel for building a wall the neighbors didn't like. But there was nothing the board could legally do to make Himsel clean up his yard.

Himsel is one of 310 homeowners in this deed-restricted community who aren't subject to its rules because they refuse to re-sign the deed documents that expired in the early 1990s when this development turned 30 years old.

This is a predicament that could occur in many more Hillsborough County subdivisions as they reach their 30-year anniversaries. It also clearly illustrates that many people would choose not to be deed-restricted if given a choice.

Of the 929 homes in Original Carrollwood, about one third are not deed-restricted. And despite the Civic Association's best efforts, it hasn't gotten a single homeowner to sign up for the restrictions in more than two years.

"You can't have a community where some people are restricted and some are not," said Sandra Speziale of Lacewood Lane. "If we have a problem, the homeowners association can't do anything."

Deed restrictions might be the most touchy topic of discussion in this community. There are non-deed-restricted homes on every street. Even some board members haven't signed the documents, said Bill Johnson, the community's property valuation protection officer.

"It does raise the question about being a little hypocritical," Johnson said.

Johnson's job is to encourage more homeowners to sign. "I've not had a single phone call in two years," he said.

Many homeowners who haven't signed the deed restrictions refused to talk to a reporter about the subject. They did not return phone messages, hung up or politely declined to comment when visited at their homes.

Himsel, however, had plenty to say.

"You'd have to be a fool to sign your property rights away to a private entity," Himsel said. "Property rights are the most coveted benefit we have as U.S. citizens.

"It's like buying a new car and handing the keys to a stranger. If they drive away, your car wasn't stolen. You're an idiot."

Original Carrollwood is the pioneer planned development in northwest Hillsborough County. Many of its current residents were the initial homebuyers who settled the lakeside community in 1959, when Carrollwood was a remote outpost surrounded by miles of palmetto and pine tree forest.

Located east of Dale Mabry Highway between Busch Boulevard and Fletcher Avenue, the development has its own private water system, private parks and a beach. People know their neighbors here. Homes are shaded by canopies of stately oak trees on quiet streets.

"People come in here because of the location and attractiveness," said Bill Canals, 81, who bought his home on Carrollview Drive in 1964. "Why in the world wouldn't you want to agree to a certain standard of living for what you bought?

"I can't understand why people who buy houses in this development do not wish to sign up for the restrictions. I did it to protect my investment. When I sell this place, I want it to look as attractive as possible."

With its own private parades and holiday traditions, Original Carrollwood seems to have that coveted sense of history and unity that eludes so many neighborhoods in the newly developed suburbs.

So, how did their community standards fall into turmoil?

The simple answer is, the residents here did not vote to renew their deed documents before they expired.

The new deed documents that homeowners are being asked to sign will give their properties deed-restricted status forever, even if the houses are sold to new owners, said Jamie Sheer, a Carrollwood Civic Association board member.

Many of the deed restrictions that Hillsborough developers first set up in the 1970s were good for 30 years. If a majority of a community's residents don't vote to extend them before they expire, it takes a 100 percent vote to reinstate the rules, said Tom Jones, president of the Carrollwood Association of Neighbors.

"It's virtually impossible to reinstate deed restrictions if they expire," Jones said.

For example, Plantation of Carrollwood is three years away from its 30-year anniversary. Homeowners there will vote August 20 whether to extend their deed restrictions for another decade. Several other communities might soon be on the verge of losing their deed restrictions.

Johnson spent more than two years mailing postcards to new residents of Original Carrollwood, urging them to sign the deed restrictions. He stopped recently because not one person responded.

Instead, he writes a column for the community newsletter, The Caroler, pointing out various deed restrictions. He reports on violations, but does not use names or specific addresses.

Most of the violations are minor complaints involving neighbors having too many cars in the driveway or the street, boats parked in the driveway, toys on the front lawn, tall grass or a broken fence.

Betsey Hapner, president of the homeowners board, wrote a column in The Caroler in June, suggesting that the board is losing patience with non-deed-restricted homeowners who make complaints.

"The vast majority of these complaints are lodged by residents who have not signed the deed restrictions," Hapner wrote. ". . . We are inclined to limit the efforts we make to address complaints made by those who are not deed-restricted."

Board member Nancy Otten, who also is a Realtor, said agents who sell homes in the neighborhood bear some responsibility for encouraging new owners to sign the deed restrictions.

"We keep getting a lot of turnover and everybody says they were not told there were deed restrictions," Otten said at a recent board meeting.

J.T. Tershowski, an Original Carrollwood resident and a leading real estate seller in the community, said he doesn't try to influence the buyer one way or another.

"Yes, I would make buyers aware of the deed restrictions, but I don't carry it any farther than that," Tershowski said. "It's an individual choice of the buyers."

Sheer, who investigates deed restriction violations for the civic association, suspects homeowners who refuse to become deed restricted are putting their own interests ahead of what's good for the neighborhood.

"People think a house that is not deed-restricted is more valuable than a house that is subjected to deed restrictions," Sheer said. "They think people would have more flexibility to make changes or improvements to the home without going through hassles with the board."

Sheer thinks people might be spooked by horror stories they've heard about other neighborhoods.

"Our deed restrictions are not overly restrictive," Sheer said. "Our deed restrictions very closely follow the county code. So, anything not allowed by the deed restrictions would not be allowed by the county code either."

The civic association's only venue for enforcement, for now, is through Hillsborough County Code Enforcement. But the county enforces safety and sanitation standards more than aesthetic concerns. That's why the neighborhood had such a tough case against Himsel, the renegade homeowner who let his weeds grow tall.

However, the county codes could get tougher when the county develops a community plan for the Carrollwood area.

Residents of areas such as Lutz, Keystone, Odessa and Citrus Park Village have already created community plans - stringent new standards and zoning guidelines for future development.

But Carrollwood's community plan won't be in place until about 2007, said Joseph Incorvia, the county's community planning manager.

In the meantime, some of Original Carrollwood's civic leaders are baffled by homeowners' resistance to deed restrictions.

Sheer says he doesn't know of any deed-restricted homeowner whom the Original Carrollwood board has turned down for a modification or addition to their home.

"All we ask is that homeowners complete a building permit application, . . . notify nearby property owners who may be affected by the project, and submit it to the Carrollwood Civic Association for approval," he said.

"Most (homeowners), if they just took the time to read the deed restrictions, would not find anything objectionable in them."

See as well: Planned communities lose right to enforce rules as deed restrictions expire